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I believe that schools take in more leaders than they put out. When we’re young, the sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do. Once we go to college, there are a series of very narrow paths leading to what’s seen as acceptable career options: doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, management consultants, engineers and so on.
If you don’t follow those paths, there’s a stigma, and maybe even some FOMO. I think we do miss out because we don’t give ourselves the freedom to explore the possibilities earlier in life. The result is that we wait a long time (too long) to pursue things that we’re super passionate about.
That’s one reason I want to make solopreneur careers less of a mystery. People who want to work for themselves should know what their options are.
Understanding the taxonomy of solo business careers
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a taxonomy of solopreneur careers. In general, solo business owners can be divided into personal-service solopreneurs and business-service solopreneurs, with a few straddling both sectors. Personal-service solopreneurs get paid to provide highly specialized services within a certain period of time. There is a one-to-one relationship between your pricing and your service-delivery time.
Personal-service solopreneurs include categories like:
Beauty businesses, covering everything from hair, nails, skincare and general grooming to tattoo artists.
Health and wellness businesses, including everyone from nutritionists and chiropractors to fitness trainers and yoga and pilates instructors.
Pet professionals like dog, cat, bird and horse trainers, sitters, groomers, as well as dog walkers.
Home services, ranging from home cleaners and window cleaners to plumbers and handymen.
Therapists and coaches, helping customers with everything from planning and executing big projects to being able to handle daily behavioral and mindset changes.
For business-service solopreneurs, the relationship between pricing and time is more fluid, and the customer isn’t necessarily paying by the hour. Solopreneurs in this category are skilled in delivering a particular output or product, but there may be nuances to how that product or output is provided depending on the client’s unique needs. Financial services, marketing, design, writing or other creative services fall under this banner.
There are a few professions that fall into both buckets, and they can be on the personal service or business service side — or both — depending on how they offer services. For example, therapists and coaches may work by the hour, but they also have business models in which business clients pay retainers. Creative professionals also have retainer options. For example, a photographer could do a one-off wedding shoot or an agency commercial, which might involve several shoots.
Popular (and uncommon) solo business careers
As a solo-business economist, I’m always fascinated by what the numbers reveal about the most common and popular solo business careers.
For example, there are more than 700,000 hairstylists and more than 300,000 fitness trainers in the U.S. Those high numbers suggest that these are mainstream careers that you are probably pretty familiar with. You can look at the numbers of professionals in different niches to get a feel for whether a particular career is likely to be a crowded and competitive option. There are around 166,000 massage therapists and around 78,000 estheticians. Meanwhile, the pet industry is expected to be worth about $99 billion this year, so there’s more demand than ever for pet professionals.
You can also tell which solopreneur careers are most popular by looking at the availability of marketplaces for those professions. For example, at one point, there were three major online platforms that all focused on helping consumers find home cleaners (HomeJoy, Handy, Exec), and you’ve still got three huge SaaS solutions focused on large beauty shops, spas and salons (StyleSeat, MindBody, & Vagaro).
That being said, those industry-sizing numbers are fun for economists like me, but they aren’t something entrepreneurs need to worry much about. Whether there are hundreds of thousands of solopreneurs already in your chosen niche across the country doesn’t impact the strength of the client bonds that you already have and can create. With 25.7 million solo businesses in the U.S, there’s definitely room for you. Maybe you’re a rock star college-prep tutor, or perhaps no other hair stylist can do a French twist like you. Whatever your niche, you’ll have a specific spin on it — your unique selling point (USP) — which will make you stand out.
You don’t have to go for the most common careers, either. We have PocketSuite Pros doing well as taxidermists, sound engineers and marriage officiants. Solopreneur businesses are relationship driven, so think about whether you can build a brand that people will share, and where the vast majority of your clients will come through word of mouth. For most successful solo businesses, that’s how they get 50-70% of their new clients.
Six-figure Success: The numbers are smaller than you think
The question most potential entrepreneurs want to know is how much they could earn. Based on my experience, I believe the bar, in terms of the number of clients you need to be successful, is within reach for anyone. I’ll delve into solopreneur math in a future article, but our data suggests that most solopreneurs can make six figures comfortably with just 50-100 regular monthly clients (or ~2.5-five clients per day), no matter which type of solo business you choose.
Anyone can achieve the six-figure solopreneur dream. I fundamentally believe that if folks were exposed earlier to the range of possible solo business professions and made connections between what they’re learning in school and the path they’re going to take in life, they would be super prepared for and confident about creating and running their own businesses.